16 April 2024 05:09 PM



The Tribune Aadhar Report: Yet Again, The Government Moves to Shoot The Independent Messenger


Any government with right intent would have used the Tribune story on the Aadhar card leakage---backed by concrete evidence and all in all a good piece of journalism---to order a time bound enquiry while taking immediate action to start plugging the leaks. But perhaps given its trajectory with independent media, the government could be expected to instead initiate action against the messenger, and move to file an FIR against the Tribune and the reporter who confirmed what many experts have been saying for a long while now. The ease with which personal details said to be confidential between the citizen and the government can be obtained, via the Unique Identification Authority of India, should be a matter of deep concern to all stakeholders, that is the people of India and the government that represents them.

The Indian Express has subsequently reported that a deputy director of UIDAI has registered an FIR agains the Tribune, the reporter and the individuals Anil Kumar, Sunil Kumar and Raj who were all contacted by the Tribune reporter for the story. The Joint Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch---no less---confirmed to the Indian Express that the FIR Had been lodged with their ‘cyber cell’ under “IPC Sections 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating), 468 (forgery) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document), as well Section 66 of the IT Act and Section 36/37 of the Aadhaar Act”. And one B M Patnaik, of the UIDAI’s logistics and grievance redressal department, is a complainant in the FIR. His complaint states, “an input has been received through The Tribune dated January 3, 2018, that the ‘The Tribune purchased’ a service being offered by anonymous sellers over WhatsApp that provided unrestricted access to details for any of the more than 1 billion Aadhaar numbers created in India thus far.”

This is condemnable action, as the government has once again trained its guns at the messenger instead of addressing the flaws in the system that The Tribune story has exposed. By any standard the news investigation qualifies as good, independent journalism without relying on hearsay, plants, and fake news. It has gone straight to the source, with the Aadhar details being accessed in front of the reporter. The Tribune editor, a professional journalist, has clearly scrutinised the story, and satisfied with the facts, published the report.

That the story feeds into the views of a host of experts who have been writing columns, speaking at seminars, with representations of similar concerns before the courts, seems to have alarmed the government that is thus, jumping to suppress the fall out with the FIR against the newspaper. Aadhar that is seen by sections as an invasive, and unsafe, intervention by the government is being pushed through by the government in unseemly haste. The resistance from concerned citizens has found expression in petitions before the courts, but it is still with visible reluctance that the government has postponed further linking of the Aadhar numbers with bank accounts from December 2017 to now March 31 2018.

The Tribune story has come as a blow to the Aadhar plan, as one it confirms fears, and can also be taken into consideration by the courts. Hence the FIR, with an essentially feeble argument by the government, that the biometrics that are essential to the Unique Identification have not been accessed only the names and the numbers and the addresses etc of the citizens. Till date the bank details of an individual were not accessible for an individual to access with the ease that seems to have allowed the ‘most secure’ scheme of the government of India to be penetrated by just a log in and a password. And of course, a small fee.

The attack on independent media by the government is represensible. Individual journalists have been subjected to abuse, harassment, with several being locked up on never really proven charges. Smaller newspapers have been threatened into submission, particularly in the states. The action against The Tribune by a central government agency directly is the first of its kind and reflects growing intolerance for a free media.

The Citizen condemns the government action that is clearly aimed at muzzling the press. However, these tactics have not succeeded in the past, and will not in the current context either. We stand in full solidarity with The Tribune and for an independent, free media.